Pyro School: Special FX Fireworks & Mobile Flamethrowers


I attended another pyrotechnics course at the same place as I took my general operator’s courses. The class was focused on proximate fireworks: fireworks designed to be used quite close to audiences and performers in theater, movie, television, concert, and sporting venues.

Flashpots, strobes, comets, crossettes, mines, gerbs, lances, airbursts, etc. Lotsa stuff to choose from. I’ve made and used many of these over the years and had a great time with them. You’d be amazed to see how close you can be to a properly designed and constructed pyrotechnic device…

The special FX pyrotechnics demo set up outside the classroom.

Comets and crossettes.

A concussion mortar. Loaded with an ounce of flash powder and ignited by an electric match, it sounds like a cannon…

Here’s my video of the live fire demonstration given today:

Also demonstrated was a commercial flame projector. Though nothing like the ones that I build, it’s still impressive for the simplicity of the device.

A commercial flame projector (“poofer”).

A view of the projector’s gas orifice and hot surface ignitor.

A video of Ken explaining and demonstrating:

Another highlight at today’s class was my friend Espressodude whom I build stuff with and camp with at Burning man. He has built “The God of Hellfire”, a motorized flame effect platform that traverses a full 360 degrees and elevates from 0 to 90 degrees (horizontal to vertical). With twin “flamethrowers” and an all electric firing system, it is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen anyone build in their garage. He brought the flamethrowers out to my property a few weeks back for testing after the fire department asked him not to do it at his house anymore… Today was the first full system test. He had a custom trailer built to carry the self mobile platform that allows operation without unloading.

GoH in action.

His “Field Artillery Tractor” which is the tow vehicle. He built this during the winter of 2010.

Rear view of GoH.

A video of the God of Hellfire in action today:

I’ll share more on this particular project in weeks to come…

Advertisements

Cooking with Foxfur: Pasta Salad with Bolt Cutters


We’re in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures in excess of 73 degrees. Don’t laugh, it’s Oregon. It’s warm enough to dry out the webbing between our toes and evaporate at least an inch of water from the front yard. Seeing as how summer’s here, for the next three days anyway, I felt it was time for whipping up some summer fare: Pasta salad.

I decided to cook the pasta outside lest I risk heat stroking the cat and otherwise negatively affecting indoor air quality. I have a propane stove I made from a barbeque that someone threw off the bridge and into the creek last summer. That’s the thing with living in the sticks, it’s a free dump for the cityfolk. I wrassled the thing to shore with a comealong and removed the side wing burner assembly. I welded up a frame and stand from scrap angle iron and water pipe (that’s bong to you hippies) and since the burner valve was damaged I installed a propane regulator from a dead BBQ out in the yard. So I went out to use Frankenstove and LO! The burner grate thingy was gone!

Similar to cast iron, don’t clean it once it’s seasoned…

After turning the kitchen upside-down and finding no cooling racks, much to Sweetpea’s delight (Mrs. Foxfur), I decided to use the steel mesh from my gold dredge’s sluicebox. One problem: it wasn’t there either. I finally found something that would work:

Good thing the plastic was there to hold the rust together. I used the blade on the BBQ brush to knock the plastic off and the bristles to shine it up a bit.

A little pruning with the bolt cutters…

Let’s see Bobby Flay do this!

That being done, it’s time to start cooking.

Tuna Pasta Salad

  • 2 Cups pasta (shells, elbows, bow-ties, anatomical shapes)
  • 1 Cup mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip)
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tsp Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Vinegar (cider, white, rice, glacial acetic acid)
  • 2 Tbsp Mustard, prepared (yellow, dijon, honey mustard)
  • 2 Pinches & 1 Dash black pepper
  • 3 Bell peppers or enough to equal 1 Cup when minced
  • 1/2 Medium onion or enough to equal 1/4 Cup when minced
  • 1 Cup green peas (1/2 can)
  • 1 5 – 6 Ounce can of tunafish

Fine Fixin’s

Set 2 quarts (4 cups) of water on to boil. Add a few dashes of salt. When boiling, dump yer pasta in.

You probably know how to do this but I’m having fun with the new camera and it just looks cool. This camera has a special food mode. My food is special.

Let it go for 8 – 10 minutes until it’s done how you like it. I like mine all denty like (al dente for you purists). Then drain it. If you don’t have a pot lip strainer, get one. Mine is stainless steel from IKEA. It’s imported (from Vietnam)!

Set the pasta aside to cool.

Now we’ll prep the veggies. I recently acquired an incredible ceramic knife. It’s the only knife I’ve ever had that will slice through a piece of paper just like Zorro can do! Got it at The Grocery Outlet, or as Sweetpea likes to call it, The Grocery Whorehouse: You never know what you’re gonna find but it’ll be cheap. Price wise, not quality wise. It’s like a garage sale for food!

I minced the onion up really fine, about the size of pickle relish. You don’t want (I don’t want) big chunks of onion. I mince the peppers a bit bigger. While cutting up the yellow pepper I found clear evidence of either alien life or genetic engineering within:

The tentacles retracted every time I tried taking a photo so you’re just gonna have to trust me…

The veggies were done thusly:

Sexy vegetables!

Combine the mayo, vinegar, salt, sugar, pepper, and mustard. Now whip it, whip it good. Slather it all over the pasta and mix until homogenous. That’s a big word. I like big words. Fold in the veggies until evenly dispersed. If done semi-correctly, you may just end up with something like this:

I like to throw all sorts of tidbits in mine. Diced ham, cheese, bacon, corn, green onions, crabmeat, etc. Don’t get too hung up on amounts of ingredients. I vary the amount of mayo and seasonings depending on how crazy I get with the tidbits. I’ll leave out the vinegar for the unadventurous and serve it on the same plate as their PBJ with the crusts cut off. You know their kind.

Get reckless with this salad. If you mess it up, put it in a nice bowl, cover it with foil, tie a ribbon over the top, and bring it to your neighbor. Just be sure to get your bowl back…

The Great Teddybear Massacre


A group of burners (Burning Man junkies, not pot smokers) extended an invitation to me to come to their “Cute Shoot”. This is a wholesome family event that features exploding teddy bears. These bears are unstuffed and restuffed with Tannerite (a legal impact sensitive explosive compound), 1lb propane cannisters, cans of V8, and numerous combinations of the above items. The animals are bought for about a dollar a pound at the Goodwill bins distribution centers. After stuffing, the animals are placed a safe distance downrange and engaged with high velocity rifles. Rimfire rounds and pistol rounds will not usually detonate Tannerite. One exception is my friend Anne. She detonated a bear with a Glock 17 (9mm) pistol. That’s not an easy shot with a 5.5 inch barreled handgun fired from an unsupported position at 30 meters. Nice shooting Anne!

I rigged up a portable flamethrower with a tank that you strap on like a backpack. I made it specifically to help with the cleanup of the bits of fluff generated by exploding teddy bears. It worked nicely and the land owner was pleased with how it burned up the scraps. I was originally going to drop a 20lb propane tank into an REI expedition backpack but it wouldn’t fit through the top entry! Then I figured I’d buy a smaller diameter 10lb tank that would fit into the pack. I spotted a hank of rope I had in the back of my truck and decided to use it to rig up shoulder straps and save 90 bucks by not buying a new tank. I used an 8 foot long piece of that rope, fit each end with hot melt adhesive lined heat shrink tubing, doubled the rope, looped it through the collar handle on top of the tank, passed the ends through a gardening kneeling pad, and threaded the rope through holes in the tank’s base ring. I also made a 90 degree adapter for the propane tank to ease mechanical stresses on the tank valve. An 8 foot hose leading to the Manchester Power Jet hand burner completed the rig. It’s easy and cheap and really works well. You can also use this setup for walking your driveway, logging road, or cow pasture to burn weeds and it’s a dandy and fun way to get your burn piles lit up in the fall when they’re a bit wet. I have removed the gas orifice from the top tube which is the burner gas delivery tube. This allows a longer and fuller bodied flame. If you’re only burning weeds, you can leave the orifice in place to conserve propane.

Mixing 1 pound Tannerite charges to stuff the bears with.

Mixing 1 pound Tannerite charges to stuff the bears with.

A Tannerite stuffed teddybear ready for the firing squad...

A Tannerite stuffed teddybear ready for the firing squad...

He shoots, he scores!

No more teddybear...

Teaching a panda bear to defend herself from propane crazed teddybears.

Teaching a panda bear to defend herself from habitat destroying teddybears.

Another rabid teddybear taken out of action!

Another rabid teddybear taken out of action!

I was a little heartbroken by this one...

I was a little heartbroken by this one...

Cleanup is always more fun with a flamethrower!

Cleanup is always more fun with a flamethrower!

 

Fire Toys


Here’s some photos of propane burning fire toys I have built. While I’d love to make a step by step tutorial, the nature of these systems prevents me from doing so. They aren’t inherently dangerous, quite the opposite actually. Rather, the construction and operation of them by individuals unfamiliar with building systems like these may lead to accidents that can be prevented by a little bit of knowledge. I built this “fire poofer” based on seeing photos and diagrams elsewhere on the net. The first two photos show the construction details of poofers. These are from The Department Of Spontaneous Combustion. The concept is simple. The poofer consists of an accumulator tank that also serves as a base. Rising from the accumulator is a manifold consisting of an inlet for the propane gas, a safety valve to shut off flow to the solenoid valve (or hand operated whistle valve), a solenoid valve (or whistle valve – a quick opening and closing valve typically used on steam whistles and air horns), a vertical ‘stack’ or pipe leading upwards, and a pilot light to ignite the released propane as it emerges from the top of the stack. My manifold is truly overbuilt. It is made up of stainless steel and 5,000 PSI hydraulic fittings (propane gas pressures seldom exceed 150-160 PSI). It’s what I had laying about in my workshop. It can easily be built from plumbing fittings available at most home improvement stores for less that $100.

Poofer fired by electric solenoid valve. It allows multiple poofers to be fired individually or simultaneously by remote control or programmable controllers. Of course, it can run a single fire poofer using a button like I do with mine.

A manually operated poofer. I’d recommend stepping up to a whistle valve for smoother operation.

The rest of the pictures are of my fire poofer.

Yes, yes I can!

Overall view

A closeup shot of the manifold

The pilot light

A wide open blast. It sounds like a jet engine. Has a deep throaty whistle / roar.

At Burning Man. Running it with short bursts or ‘poofs’

Controlling the solenoid valve with a signal generator

My “Auto-Fire” control

A finished view of the “Auto-Fire” controller box. The 10-turn pot allows fine control of the firing rate. It ranges from around 1 shot per second to 17 per second. On and off periods are identical, i.e. 1 second open, one second closed. Future iterations will allow adjustable periods independent of each other.
The timer circuit is based on a 555 timer IC and a solid state relay. It’s a 4 channel relay so it has expansion possibilities.

A video of the poofer running in Auto-Fire mode:

In manual burst operation it will produce fire rings in still air

I don’t know what this one came from but it’s from something of ours and looks cool

One of our propane flamethrowers (modified Manchester Power Jet commercial weed / brush burner)…

The Manchester Power Jet hand burner puts out 750,000 BTUs. See details at Manchester’s website. They’re not cheap. Expect to spend around $200. Here’s one for $130. That’s just the burner, no hose or regulator. They have a package deal including them which costs $220. I don’t use a regulator with mine, never have, not needed. I want wide open, right now, burn it all kind of flames. You can get a 10 foot hose online or at a propane dealer. The valve that it uses is what’s referred to as a whistle valve. It allows nearly instant full opening as well as infinitely variable flame adjustment.

A whistle valve available online from McMaster-Carr.

Here I’m running two Power Jets and the fire poofer at the same time. I’m using a foot switch to run the solenoid valve on the poofer.

 

A manually operated poofer:

The manually operated poofers can use a whistle valve (best due to the speed of operation) or a ball valve (less expensive). Electrically operated (using a solenoid valve) poofers cost the most to build and require a power source to operate the valve. I like them due to their adaptability to automation and remote operation. Manual ones are quite safe to operate but you are so close that you can’t appreciate the look of the fireballs and flares.

Be careful and have fun. Wear all cotton, wool, denim or aramid clothing when operating any fire toy. Synthetic fabrics melted onto skin are decidedly un-fun…

Update, May 5th, 2017. Nick Poole, another flame effects and electronics enthusiast, has a poofer build at Sparkfun you should check out. He listed this page as reference used in his research, AND, he’s still alive! If you’d like to improve your chances of survival and integrate a microcontroller into your project, go and learn how here.

Feel free to leave a question or comment below. I’ll try to answer your questions. Be sure to click “Notify me of responses” or whatever it says so you’ll know when I answer it. You’ll have to enter your email address to use this option but don’t worry, you won’t get any spam from me.